Monday, November 25, 2013

Frank Schaefer's trial meant to begin a reign of fear?

Rev. Paul T. Stallsworth
One of the expert witnesses for the prosecution during Pastor Frank Schaefer's trial was the president of an unofficial group of United Methodists called the Taskforce of United Methodists on Abortion and Sexuality

The Rev. Paul T. Stallsworth, president of the task force and editor of its publication Lifewatch, was introduced at the trial as the president of an organization that deals with issues of human sexuality.

Sort of.

Lifewatch is actually an anti-choice group. According to their website, their mission is: 
Out of obedience to Jesus Christ, the Taskforce of United Methodists on Abortion and Sexuality (TUMAS) will work to create in church and society esteem for human life at its most vulnerable, specifically for the unborn child and for the Woman who contemplates abortion.  Therefore, TUMAS's first goal is to win the hearts and minds of United Methodists, to engage in abortion-prevention through theological, pastoral and social emphases that support human life." 
Notice, however, that birth control may not be one of the task force's strategies for "abortion-prevention."

Posted on their website today (Nov. 25, 2013) is a quote lambasting the work of Margaret Sanger, one of our nation's greatest pioneer in making birth control available to families and women. This, in part, is what, the website says about Sanger:
  From the seed of Margaret Sanger came ... widespread distribution of birth control and condoms to teenagers, rampant sexual immorality, commercials celebrating irresponsibility and bastardization, an “easy out” of any consequence of sexual flippancy and the list goes on. The fruit we reap today from Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood comes from a seed of hatred, sin and death– you cannot separate the fruit of this tree from it’s [sic] seed.
 Stallsworth's lengthy testimony, mostly read word for word from a manuscript, during the penalty phase of the trial concerned Article 22 of the Articles of Religion in the Book of Discipline

When U.S. Methodism became an independent church in 1784, John Wesley selected 24 of the Anglican Church's 39 Articles of Religion  to be a basic doctrinal statement for American Methodism. A 25th article was added until General Conference passed a restrictive rule in 1808 that said: "The General Conference shall not revoke, alter, or change our Articles of Religion or establish any new standards or rules of doctrine contrary to our present existing and established standards of doctrine."

Here is what Article 22 of the Articles of Religion says:

Article XXII—Of the Rites and Ceremonies of Churches
It is not necessary that rites and ceremonies should in all places be the same, or exactly alike; for they have been always different, and may be changed according to the diversity of countries, times, and men's manners, so that nothing be ordained against God's Word. Whosoever, through his private judgment, willingly and purposely doth openly break the rites and ceremonies of the church to which he belongs, which are not repugnant to the Word of God, and are ordained and approved by common authority, ought to be rebuked openly, that others may fear to do the like, as one that offendeth against the common order of the church, and woundeth the consciences of weak brethren.
Every particular church may ordain, change, or abolish rites and ceremonies, so that all things may be done to edification.
 At the heart of Stallsworth's lengthy testimony was a minor theme and a major theme.

The minor theme was that doing a same-sex wedding is an instance of a rite or ceremony that is "ordained against God's word." Interestingly, Stallsworth did not really present a study of scripture that showed this to be the case. He merely made a vague reference to Genesis 2, Mark 10 and Ephesians 5.  

His major theme, the one he focused most of his  energy on, was what penalty ought to be imposed on Frank Schaefer for having done a same-sex wedding. Here he quoted, and requoted, and quoted again the words: "ought to be rebuked openly, that others may fear to do the like."

His point was that the penalty ought to be severe enough to make other United Methodist pastors afraid enough that they would never themselves do a same-sex wedding.

So we all should understand we've been warned. The people prosecuting Frank Schaefer (at the invitation of the resident bishop)  made it clear that they intend to assure obedience to their interpretation of the Book of Discipline by punishing clergy so severely that pastors will do their ministry with LGBTQ United Methodists in a spirit of fear.

They want to scare us into agreeing with their interpretation of the Book of Discipline.  

And don't suppose it will stop here. One of the goals of the Taskforce of United Methodists on Abortion and Sexuality is to end the current law which says:  "...physicians must be free to use their 'medical judgment for the preservation of the life or health of the mother.'" A page on their website argues that the life and welfare of the mother should not be prioritized.  

Furthermore, another goal of the task force is to get United Methodist-related hospitals to not prioritize the health of the mother.  The task force says: "We pledge, with God's help, to encourage United Methodist-related hospitals to adopt medical ethics guidelines, which are protective of the unborn child and mother."

To summarize: Pastor Frank Schaefer's trial had a prosecutor who would call Paul Stallsworth to advocate for a fear-inducing penalty. The trial was judged by a jury who would succumb to Stallsworth's argument that the penalty ought to be fear-inducing. Now we all have to worry about whether the spirit of controlling pastors through fear will grow among us. 

It is hard not to think of the words of the 20th century German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemoller:
First they came for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak up,
because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me,
and by that time there was no one
left to speak up for me.
By the way, during his discussion of Article 22, Stallsworth did not mention Article 21. Article 21 says:
Article XXI—Of the Marriage of Ministers
The ministers of Christ are not commanded by God's law either to vow the estate of single life, or to abstain from marriage; therefore it is lawful for them, as for all other Christians, to marry at their own discretion, as they shall judge the same to serve best to godliness.
If we have to have trials, I hope someone testifies someday about this article that says that all Christians, clergy and laity, should be able to "marry at their own discretion, as they shall judge the same to serve best to godliness."

No fear!


  1. Your arrogance and lack of charity is astounding.

    Lifewatch and TUMAS, whose founding was endorsed the like of William R. Cannon and Albert C. Outler, and whose advisory Board includes Stanley Hauerwaus, Thomas Oden, Geoffrey Wainwright, Will Willimon and Timothy Whitaker exists to proclaim the love of God in Christ to men and women whose broken and confused sexuality needs healing.

    It is not necessary to present a lengthy tome to prove what is intuitively obvious: Marriage has been and can only be the union of a man and a woman, blessed by God for their completion as men and women (not good their aloneness) and for the procreation of the race.

    And yes, one of the reasons for Church discipline is to impose a penalty, the purpose of which is correction in love. Those who do not wish to be corrected can call this 'control through fear.' Respecting the oversight which you vowed before God to accept, is apparently beyond your capacity. You must have had your fingers crossed when you were ordained.

    The sooner you leave the UMC, the better off both you and the Church will be.

    James W. Lung
    Greensboro, North Carolina

    1. There's no need to frame your argument with such nastiness.

      Your rigidly complementarian view of marriage and sexuality doesn't need to guide the UMC. It is outdated. Those of us who happen to be gay are not broken or confused, and we seek to advance marriage equality in order to uphold the institution of marriage as the central force in our society for the creation of households and families. This is in keeping with the spirit of Church traditions.

      It is not intuitively obvious that marriage is only for heterosexual persons, because marriage between gay and lesbian Christians works and works beautifully. I know many LGBTQ couples with families and praise God for their love and for their devotion to the Church. The only thing that is "broken and confused" in this case is a theology of exclusion that would deny the love of Christ to the millions of His followers who are LGBTQ.

    2. I agree that a complementarian view of marriage may be "outdated" by the standards of our pagan culture. Unfortunately, the complementarian view of marriage is the only model ordained by the God of the bible. I suppose you are also offended that outdated biology texts perpetuate heterosexism by taking the ridiculous view that humans have a reproductive system.

      Whatever "marriage" between persons of the same sex entails, it is not marriage. That it "works" is problematic. Studies show that it is rare for homosexual males to commit to monogamy, let alone live a monogamous life, married or not. Although the cohort is small, there is already a growing body of studies demonstrating that the lack of complementarity in those households with children has detrimental effects on the children.

      I have no idea what "Church traditions" you could possibly cite to defend treating same-sex genital intimacy identically to male-female relations.

      Talk of marriage "equality" is a red herring. There is no evidence that homosexuality, so called, is innate. Nor is an inward desire to unite sexually with a person of the same sex innate. While the process of any sinful sexual bondage is complex, all are the result of decisions and choices an individual makes freely.

      All sexual deviance is incredibly complex. The feeling that "I have always been this way" is a convenient defense mechanism, which, repeated often enough, becomes the only reality the sexually broken know. The same could be said of a paraphiliac with an underwear fetish.

      I have no doubt that LGBT persons love God and are devoted to the church. I hope that they are or will become celibate. Teaching the truth about human sexuality cannot deny any sinner, yours truly being Number One, the love of Christ. I regret that some feel excluded. The remedy, if one is possible, is not to bless that which cannot be blessed.

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  3. Wow. I am late seeing this! But, it is wonderful. Thanks for revealing this. I'm doing what I can to resist that fear.